Artificial turf to cover UI baseball field by 2008, cutting down on injuries, cost

By David Just

Illinois Field will make the switch from grass to the artificial FieldTurf in time for the start of the 2008 baseball season, Illinois Director of Athletics Ron Guenther announced last week.

The installation is set to begin Monday and will take two to three months to complete.

“It will be a big boost for our program,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “The field will play truer and be one of the finest in the country.”

The installation will be funded by private gifts and will cost just more than $1 million. Illinois Field costs more than $85,000 to maintain annually, and the University expects to break even with the virtually maintenance-free FieldTurf.

One of the major benefits for the players will be how much earlier they can begin practicing outside, senior second baseman Ryan Hastings said.

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“We also get a home field advantage because we play on it everyday,” he added. “Other teams have to come in here, and it’s something more for them to worry about.”

Rainouts will likely be a thing of the past; barring any lightning, the drainage system embedded in the rock subsurface will minimize the need to cancel games.

And as for the increased risk of injury that comes with playing on an artificial surface?

Actually, there’s less risk of injury, Hartleb said.

“The field allows for some cushion but still has enough grip for cleats to dig in and guys to make quick turns without turning an ankle or knee,” he said.

Illinois is the 19th Division I-A university to install FieldTurf for its baseball facility and three Major League Baseball clubs – the Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays – use it in their stadiums.

“It’s great for our program,” junior outfielder Nick Stockwell said. “It will make this field one of the elite fields in the Big Ten.

“It’ll play a little faster, but more importantly it will play truer and balls won’t take as many bad hops.”

Hartleb expects the transition to the artificial surface to be a smooth one because of how similar it is to natural grass.

Even so, Hastings would still choose to play on grass if given the choice between the two.

“Grass is a truer feel, but this is still as realistic as possible,” he said.